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THE BRIEFING FOR MARCH 15 TO 29, 2012
By Joe Brancatelli

· United Still Can't Get Its Computer Act Together
· Washington/National Gets More Long-Haul Flights
· In Miami, Marriott Loses The Doral to The Donald
· Emirates Launches Flights to Dubai From Dulles
· United Juggles Planes on New Route to Istanbul
· Behind the Scenes (Not) at JoeSentMe World HQ
· Porn, Profit and Piety (Not) in the Hotel Business


United Airlines Still Can't Get Its Computer Act Together
Nearly two weeks after the chaotic United-Continental data merger, the combined United is still dealing with a raft of severe problems. For starters, reaching the airline by telephone continues to be hit or miss. Some elite flyers are getting through with minimal holds, others continue to wait hours or, worse, get disconnected because United can't handle the volume. Another continuing issue: Elites expecting to use their status upgrades continue to be flummoxed by new processes or have lost previously approved upgrades, which then requires a call to the impossibly congested phone lines. United also hasn't solved the problem of days-long delays in issuing tickets ordered on and confirmed by United.com. And as a lot of frustrated flyers in San Francisco learned yesterday (March 14), legacy United employees continue to struggle with the SHARES computer system whenever they must manage "irregular operations." (That's delayed and cancelled flights to you and me.) Bad weather yesterday at SFO led United's on-time performance there to fall below 40 percent, partially because the employees still don't know the procedures and codes used by the SHARES system. Finally, if you're still missing miles in your frequent flyer account or have had trouble getting recent flights to post, don't expect much resolution before the end of the month.

Washington/National to Get More Flights From More Players
US Airways is about to launch its new flights from Washington/National thanks to its years-in-the-making slot swap with Delta Air Lines. But the big news this week is the other carriers at the district's close-in airport. Thanks to a provision in a recently passed aviation bill, "perimeter-restricted" National will get eight new roundtrip long-haul flights. Half of the service is earmarked for new entrants. New service from the existing players includes one roundtrip each from United (to San Francisco in May), American (to Los Angeles in June) and Delta (an additional flight to its Salt Lake City hub in June). US Airways hasn't yet announced what its new long-haul flight will be. Among the hopefuls requesting the four other long-haul slots are JetBlue Airways (it wants to fly to Austin and San Juan); Alaska Airlines (San Diego and Portland, Oregon); Virgin America (it wants to fly to its SFO hub); Southwest Airlines (Austin); Air Canada (Vancouver); Frontier Airlines (Colorado Springs); and Sun Country (Las Vegas). The Transportation Department will chose among the newcomers by May.

In Miami, Marriott Loses The Doral to The Donald
Attention Marriott Rewards players: If you were planning to cash points at the 693-room Doral Golf Resort, do it before the end of May. The 650-acre Miami property, best known for its five golf courses, has been sold to Donald Trump and will become part of Trump's hotel collection on or about June 1. ... DoubleTree by Hilton has added two more hotels, both conversions. DoubleTree's flag now flies over the 302-room property formerly known as the Wichita Airport Executive Conference Center and the 225-room hotel once known as the Hesperia London Victoria Station. ... Speaking of conversions, Holiday Inn Express is now the name on the door of the 109-room property near Houston/Intercontinental that used to be called the Guesthouse Inn. The hotel is just off Interstate 45. ... Le Meridien, a Starwood chain, has opened a 259-room hotel in the Etiler district of Istanbul. The property's guestrooms have floor-to-ceiling windows and many overlook the Bosporus. ... Marriott has opened a 70-room Fairfield Inn in Grand Junction, Colorado.

United Will Fly to Istanbul, Emirates Will Fly to Dulles
United Airlines says that it will launch daily flights from its Newark hub to Istanbul beginning on July 1. United will use Boeing 767-300s on the route, but with typical post-merger chaotic configurations. Until August 27, planes will have pre-merger United service (first, business, Economy Plus and coach). Then they'll switch to a pre-merger Continental configuration of 30 seats in BusinessFirst, 46 in Economy Plus and 138 in coach. ... Emirates has selected Washington/Dulles as its seventh U.S. gateway. On September 12, the Dubai-based carrier will launch daily Dulles-Dubai service using Boeing 777-300ER aircraft configured with eight first-class suites, 42 business-class seat-beds and 304 seats in coach. ... Iberia and its unhappy pilots--they've mounted dozens of days of job actions in recent months--have agreed to mediation over the airline's launch of a non-union division. ... Kingfisher Airlines, the heavily indebted Indian airline, continues to cancel flights in bunches and has lost its code-share with British Airways. The Indian government says that it won't lend more money to the privately held airline, owned by flamboyant liquor baron Vijay Mallya.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Direct Air, a Myrtle Beach public-charter carrier virtually no one has heard of, has stopped flying after it couldn't pay for fuel. It claims the closure is only for two months. Don't hold your breath. ... Embarrassed by the negative publicity surrounding pat-downs of senior citizens, the Transportation Security Administration says it will allow travelers above the age of 75 to pass through security screening with their jackets and shoes on. At least it'll start testing the policy at four airports--Chicago/O'Hare; Denver, Orlando and Portland, Maine. Should a senior trigger an alarm on the full-body scanners, he or she will be permitted a second pass before being searched. ... Always wondered what went on at the vast, worldwide JoeSentMe.com headquarters? Surf here for an extremely unrepresentative view. An energetic cabal of young actors used our riverfront grounds and facilities as the location for a Web series called Shakespeare, Hashish and Ish. And, no, I have no more idea of what the thing is about now then late last summer, when we ducked cameras and pulled black gaffer tape off all of our surfaces.

Porn, Profit, Piety and the Power of the Bottom Line at Marriott
We discussed in-flight and in-room porn a few years back, but the topic is, er, hot again thanks to 80-year-old Bill Marriott, who retires this month from the company that bears his family's name. In a long exit interview with the Associated Press, Marriott, one of the nation's best-known Mormons, reveals how piety almost always takes a back seat to profit. "I've always been concerned about [porn] in rooms. That's something we've had a real problem with because the Church is very, very opposed to pornography, as it should be, and we are for families. But the owners of our hotels were making a lot of money." So why has Marriott now said that it will eventually stop selling porn movies in its guestrooms? "The demand for them has gone way down. It was a good time to exit," Marriott explains.

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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.

This column is Copyright 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.